South Carolina: One Candidate's Waterloo/Bush & McCain Finally Get Rough

| 16 Feb 2015 | 04:52

    South Carolina: One Candidate's Waterloo Bush & McCain Finally Get Rough Comparatively, last week was the worst Sen. John McCain has had in several months. It wasn't just that his extraordinary, and earned, New Hampshire "bounce" was spent; or that a fraction of the mainstream press was releasing stories critical of the "reformer's" coziness with lobbyists and corporate donors; or that his polling numbers in South Carolina were slipping. It certainly wasn't his loss in the Delaware primary on Feb. 8, where the Senator placed second, far behind Gov. George W. Bush, although without even campaigning he knocked out Steve Forbes. As McCain himself said, he doesn't even look out the window at Delaware while riding the Metroliner from New York to DC. And, as GOP consultant Tony Fabrizio told The Wall Street Journal last week about the Delaware results: "This is one of those instances where a win is not a win for George W. Bush. Once again, he's underestimated the power of McCain's message." I don't quite understand how a victory in a primary demonstrates that Bush isn't aware of the "McCain Swoon," but Fabrizio gets paid by somebody to spin like that. Where McCain went wrong last week was in airing an attack ad that compared Bush to Bill Clinton, one that featured the tag line, "Do we really want another politician in the White House we can't trust?" That woke the Texas Governor up. Finally. GOP Wise Man William Bennett, who's remained neutral, said: "Hardly anyone falls in Bill Clinton's class. It's not straight. It's not right. It was about as low-road as you can get. It diminishes particularly the man who says 'I'm not going to be negative.'" McCain knew he was out of bounds and that's why he piously pulled all negative advertising last Friday, and called on Bush to do the same. The Arizonan, his decision obviously dictated by internal polling, said: "We will put up positive ads. We will run no attack or response or any other kind of negative advertising for the rest of this campaign... I hope [Bush] will recognize the damage this kind of thing does to the electorate."

    Bush respectfully declined McCain's advice on advertising. He said: "It's a bait-and-switch trick. He runs ads for 18 days defining me as something I'm not then, all of a sudden says, 'OK, let's all quit.' My ads are to make sure that I clarify exactly who I am and what I believe."

    Instead, Bush put up a new ad that said, "Politics is tough, but when John McCain compared me to Bill Clinton and said I was untrustworthy, that's over the line. Disagree with me, fine, but do not challenge my integrity."

    The intensity of the South Carolina battle was amped up last Thursday at a McCain rally in Spartanburg, where one of the Senator's supporters, Donna Duren, claimed that her 14-year-old son had been push-polled the day before. The voice at the other end allegedly told the boy, who is an admirer of McCain, that the Senator is "a cheat and a liar and a fraud." Duren said she was "so livid last night I couldn't sleep."

    In Friday's Washington Post, reporters Dan Balz and Dana Milbank wrote that "McCain was visibly upset by Duren's story and promised to call her son later today." McCain then took advantage of the incident to hold a news conference, in which he said: "I'm calling on my good friend George Bush to stop this now. Stop this now. He comes from a better family. He knows better than this. He should stop it. I'll pull down every negative ad that I have... Let's treat voters of South Carolina with some respect."

    Not surprisingly, the media assumed that Bush was the culprit in this controversy, even though the candidate denied it, released phone transcripts of the calls his campaign was making and said he'd fire anyone who engaged in that sort of practice.

    Not one reporter even questioned the possibility that Duren's heart-wrenching story was a setup, or that the push poll was conducted by a person in the McCain campaign. Maybe that's too cynical, but McCain's right-hand man, Mike Murphy, is a shrewd consultant-for-hire. As with any of these vultures?Dick Morris and Robert Shrum are only the most extreme examples?morals mean little: they sign up with a candidate who can pay and possibly win. After Murphy's stint with Lamar Alexander in '96, you know he's hungry for a potentially lucrative victory.

    However, a far more plausible scenario is that if the call really did take place, it was orchestrated by the Al Gore War Room. The whole incident just reeks of James Carville and Bill Clinton.

    The Post reporters later phoned McCain and said he was "still unsettled." The Senator told them: "Frankly, it's the first time in the campaign that I've been a little rattled. Because of the way the woman spoke about it and the harm it did her son. That's not what political campaigns are supposed to be about. When a boy who is a Boy Scout gets subjected to it."

    Yes, that's a three-hanky quote.

    In the Feb./March George, Phoenix New Times staff writer Amy Silverman, who's covered McCain for six years, tells a story about her state's senator, under the headline "Warning: Don't Fall in Love with This Man." Back in 1994, Silverman was "floored" by the immediate access she got to McCain, for an article she was working on about local Republican politics. Like Beltway reporters, she got a tour of the McCain household and was asked to accompany the Senator for the day, rather than the hour she expected at most.

    They drove to Tucson, "safe and cozy in a minivan piloted by the senator," for a radio show McCain was appearing on. Silverman writes: "What a cool guy. He answered all my questions, joked around, and even volunteered information I hadn't requested." When they arrived at the radio station, Silverman describes McCain, with "huge black headphones over his white comb-over," taking questions from listeners. "At one point," she writes, "he took a call from an elderly woman named Rosemary, who was terrified about nuclear proliferation. McCain was sweet and solicitous. 'You make some excellent points, Rosemary, and I wish that everybody were as concerned about the issue as you are.'"

    McCain then took a commercial break and spoke to Silverman, "his new friend." She continues: "Then McCain sneered?a really mean sneer?and said with animosity, 'I believe that Rosemary has a bumper sticker that says VISUALIZE WORLD PEACE.' And then he laughed.

    "I wasn't so sure I wanted to be the guy's best friend anymore. And the feeling apparently became mutual after my story came out. McCain and his staff didn't answer my requests for information for the next five years."

    More significantly, however, is that McCain's demeanor has changed since the first days of his phenomenal victory in New Hampshire. Look at his eyes?he's tired, testy and ready to blow a fuse. As every political pundit has said in the last week, describing the carnage in South Carolina, politics ain't beanbag. Whatever that means. Here's a problem McCain can't ignore: public anger is his Achilles' heel. Because of his reputation as a hothead who can't work with other legislators, a man whose temper is legendary, McCain can't afford to say what's really on his mind. It's the reverse for Rudy Giuliani. New York City's mayor is a prick and everybody knows it. He's a selfish demagogue who's incapable of sharing credit with anyone else. Rudy's an asshole but he's made the city a safer place in which to live, work and visit. Therefore, because voters already know the Mayor's bound to say something stupid or self-aggrandizing, they'll shrug it off, with a "That's Rudy for you. Get me another beer."

    Even McCain's media surrogates are less jovial these days. The detestable Larry King hosted a riotous session on his CNN show last Tuesday that included Carville, Bush supporter Ralph Reed and Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, a vocal McCain advocate.

    King asked Carville which candidate he'd rather oppose in the fall, Bush or McCain. Carville: "I'm looking you right in the camera?red rover, red rover, send either one of them right over. That's what I say. I say take the record of these last seven years... We're ready to go... Al Gore is going to be the next president of the United States. We're going to run an aggressive campaign. Let these clowns go over there and beat each other up. I don't care."

    Kristol, for once losing his Cheshire cat grin, was not happy on this program, as is evident from the following exchange with Carville.

    Carville: What are the three signature McCain accomplishments in the United States Senate? Do you want to go through them for us real quick, after 17 years?

    Kristol: Yes. He was de facto secretary of state of the United States during the Kosovo war.

    JC: When?

    BK: And he did more than President Clinton, I'm afraid, to ensure that the U.S. won it.

    JC: I don't know how to tell you?I don't know how to tell you this.

    Larry King: One at a time.

    JC: What's his accomplishment? He opposed the war that we won. That's an accomplishment. I'm sorry, that don't pass the laugh test, Bill. Give me three accomplishments.

    BK: James, you know?James, if you were telling the truth?James, if Larry could make you tell the truth?and I wish he could...

    JC: I asked you what his accomplishments...

    BK: are terrified of facing John McCain.

    JC: ...Bill, would you just give the three signature accomplishments of 17 years in the United States Congress of John McCain?

    BK: Look, I'm not the spokesman...

    Larry King: OK. He won't give you the accomplishments, and you won't admit you're terrified. OK.

    Then Reed jumped in, which visibly irritated Kristol. (Earlier, Reed had said: "I don't find myself agreeing with James Carville very often on anything, but I do have to say that I certainly agree with his diagnosis of McCain. I mean, the guy has been in Washington for 17 years. He has been an insider. He's been a committee chairman. He's one of the most powerful men in Washington, and he has little or nothing to show for it. His two signature issues are campaign finance reform, which he's not been able to pass, and a tobacco bill that he's not been able to pass.")

    Reed: Larry, can I respond to what Bill said. First of all, John McCain's the one with the Washington ZIP code, and Bill Kristol's the one with the Washington ZIP code here. I'm in Atlanta. Gov. Bush is from Austin, TX. We're not the Washington insiders. That's first of all. Second of all, if you want to know where all the Washington lobbyists are, they're going to be at a half-million-dollar fundraiser for John McCain in two nights...

    "And in addition to that, [McCain's] campaign finance reform is a hog's trough for special interests. It gives power and control to Washington left-wing union bosses. And in fact, I want to quote a magazine called The Weekly Standard, Bill's magazine. This is what they said, not me. This is what Bill's magazine said about John McCain's campaign finance reform, the centerpiece of his campaign. They said, quote, 'It's ugly, foolish and blatantly unconstitutional.' Those are The Weekly Standard's words, not mine."

    No Bets on This One If the South Carolina primary were held today, Feb. 14, I believe George W. Bush, buoyed by the backlash of John McCain's negative advertising, would win by several points, a prediction in line with almost every internal and external poll. But next Saturday? Who knows? This election is so out of control that probably a dozen events during the week will determine the outcome. The whiff of Jesse Ventura-like political theater is confounding everyone. Tuesday night's debate, moderated by CNN's Larry King, will turn the campaign over once again; the perceived victor, who will benefit from at least a two-day news cycle, will probably prevail on Saturday. On Feb. 14, New York Times columnist William Safire, who despises the Bush family, wrote that McCain has the better chance to defeat Gore in the fall. I think his animus toward former President Bush and his son has clouded his thinking: he doesn't even consider that McCain hasn't been raked over by the investigative reporters who will hop off the Straight Talk Express and delve into the well of McCain dirt if he's nominated. Safire does grant Bush this much: "The paradox is that Bush has been becoming a better candidate even as his campaign has been getting worse. It's a pleasure to see him grow before our eyes: no more cocky smirks, no fear of being blindsided, no dismaying hesitancy on foreign-policy answers. He needed not just preparation but the shock of personal adversity."

    The droves of reporters in South Carolina certainly don't agree on anything. In Sunday's papers, The New York Times' Richard Berke?surprise?put a dire spin on Bush's chances, in a piece headlined "Bush Treating South Carolina as a Must-Win." He wrote: "Gov. George W. Bush's campaign has scrapped trips to California and Arizona, bought the advertising time once held by Steve Forbes and started contacting 135,000 independents and Democrats in an all-out bid to stop Senator John McCain from winning the South Carolina primary a week from today. With Mr. McCain riding a wave of national attention after his 19-point victory in New Hampshire, the Bush camp feels that a loss here for Mr. Bush would put his prospects for winning the Republican presidential nomination in jeopardy."

    Berke is so behind the curve that his article could've been written a week earlier. In fact, it probably was.

    The Washington Post's Dan Balz, in contrast, wrote about the increasing intensity of the primary and said that although the contest was too close to call, "[T]here was a greater sense of confidence among Bush's advisers about the direction of the race." And unlike Berke, who's impersonating Sidney Blumenthal this year for Al Gore and skewing his coverage in favor of McCain, Balz made an observation that would never pass muster in the Times. He wrote: "McCain, once the happy warrior chatting endlessly in the back of his campaign bus, clawed at Bush as a politician who 'twists the truth' like President Clinton and whose tax plan puts 'not one new penny' into saving Social Security. Then on Friday, like a drunk awakening from a bender, McCain called a halt to his negative advertising."

    Also in Sunday's Post was a piece called "Bush-McCain Battle Intensifies in S.C.," which focused on the nastiness of the race?New Hampshire wasn't even mentioned until the last paragraph of the story?and gave the impression of a downbeat McCain. Post reporters Dana Milbank and Terry M. Neal wrote: "McCain voiced hopes that the alleged Bush tactics would backfire. 'It's amazing, the number of people' who have told him they're switching to him because of the attacks, he said. But McCain told reporters he could not compete with Bush's TV campaign, which he said 'may be the largest buy in the history of South Carolina.' McCain said he was being outspent 'seven, eight, ten to one.'"

    Back to Berke, who wrote: "When Mr. Forbes dropped out on Wednesday, Bush aides grabbed the remaining $45,000 in air time, expanding television and radio expense here to $3 million, nearly a half-million more than Mr. McCain's."

    Somebody down there could use a remedial lesson in arithmetic and I suspect it's John McCain.

    Then there is just plain stupid reporting. On Friday, The Boston Globe's Michael Kranish began his dispatch with a folksy anecdote. "To Lanny Wiles, the scenario seems eerily familiar. A well-financed Texan, backed by the political establishment, expects to ride a South Carolina win to the White House. But here the Texan faces a self-proclaimed outsider, who has few congressional endorsements but a magnetic style that wins over independents and Democrats."

    Kranish is referring to the 1980 South Carolina primary battle in which Ronald Reagan whipped the Texan John Connally by 24 points. But the analogy is so wrong it seems impossible it was even printed. First of all, Reagan was hardly an "outsider": he'd run for president in '76, dogging President Gerald Ford all the way to the GOP convention. In '80, Reagan, who won the New Hampshire primary, was seasoned and well-known, unlike McCain before a few months ago. Additionally, comparing Connally to Bush is ludicrous: the former Texas governor did famously spend a ton of money in a campaign that netted him one delegate, but unlike Bush, he placed fourth in the Iowa caucuses, with 9 percent of the vote. Bush won the contest this year. In New Hampshire, Connally finished sixth, with less than 2 percent of the total. Bush was swamped by McCain, but he did come in second.

    Connally was creamed in South Carolina and then dropped out of the primaries, saying, "I don't ever intend to be a candidate again."

    Even farther down the journalistic ladder is John Podhoretz, the former New York Post editorial page editor who now writes a twice-weekly column for the paper. After the Iowa results, Podhoretz claimed the primary season was over, that McCain's gamble to ignore the state had failed and Bush would now coast to the nomination. That was a bit over the top; after all, McCain was booming in New Hampshire, whose voters went to the polls only a week later. But Podhoretz, jumping the gun, wrote that McCain was "basically toast."

    Last Friday, ignoring Bush's successful stanch of his New Hampshire bloodbath, the Pod proclaimed: "John McCain will be the Republican nominee for president. Barring some really catastrophic error on his part, he is on an inexorable path to coronation at the GOP Convention in Philadelphia on Aug. 2... Bye-bye, Dubya." I can't fathom how Podhoretz can declare two victors in the space of three weeks, ignoring the closeness of this race, not to mention the spate of primaries to come on March 7, but the Pod is one goofy dude.

    As one respected pundit told me on Friday, "I agree Podhoretz probably is a good reverse indicator."

    Another political journalist said: "I had read His Pod-ness this morning and now feel that I finally understand what's going on. Of course, I also felt that way three weeks ago, when I finished reading his musings on Iowa. The fact that the two columns directly contradict one another does not bother me, because I know that His Pod-ness works in mysterious ways. And I believe."

    Beltway logic says that McCain wins if there's a big turnout of crossover independents and Democrats, a repeat of what happened in New Hampshire. At this point, the Republican vote is largely conceded to Bush. What this analysis ignores, however, is the percentage of South Carolina's Democrats who are black. After McCain's waffling on the Confederate flag issue, it's unlikely they'll vote for him or Bush. That puts a lot of money on the state's independents, and unlike New Hampshire, which was relatively civilized, it's anybody's guess how the ugliness of this race will affect voter turnout.

    Press Secretary Jonathan Alter The Feb. 21 issue of Newsweek, predictably, slobbers all over John McCain, starting with "Conventional Wisdom" on page four. Read this trash and tell me the magazine doesn't have a political agenda: "In South Carolina, you can call your opponent an ax murderer or a traitor. But God forbid you compare him to...Bill Clinton. That's almost as bad as comparing him to Abe Lincoln." In "Between the Lines," columnist Jonathan Alter tries to convince readers that McCain would revolutionize the Republican Party with his much-touted "reform" schemes. Never mind that Alter, and all the other biased journalists who are shilling for McCain, will vote for Al Gore in the fall. If they, or any other Upper West Side liberals, tell you otherwise, it's a lie: McCain is pro-life and in favor of the current "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" military policy. Case closed: Democrats don't support Republicans who masquerade as Democrats.

    Nevertheless, Alter trudges on with his charade: "Maybe it's something more that scares Republicans about McCain. If elected, he'd take some of the 'old' out of the Grand Old Party. A McCain presidency might be more about ends than beginnings?the end of tax-cutting as a panacea; the end of the hard right intimidating everyone in the party; the end of Trent Lott and Tom DeLay and the old order on Capitol Hill."

    Sure. The "hard right" was so effective that several GOP senators disgraced themselves by voting for Bill Clinton's acquittal last year, forever staining their careers.

    Not until the last page of the magazine, in a column by George Will, does a shred of sanity set in. Will dissects an issue that's almost never discussed by journalists: McCain's promise to close the "loophole" of charitable donations. Currently, when a citizen gives, for example, works of art, jewelry or stocks to a church, museum or school, he or she is allocated a tax deduction based on the current value of the object or asset. Say I bought a painting 25 years ago for $1000 and the artist became famous, boosting its current value to $50,000. Under McCain's "reform," I'd receive a deduction based on the original $1000. And the Arizona Senator calls himself conservative?

    Will correctly argues that if such a law is enacted, charitable giving, upon which many nongovernment institutions are dependent, would plummet. He writes: "Now, note the defense of this proposal by McCain's spokesman, Howard Opinsky: 'Wealthy Americans shouldn't get a tax write-off for contributing a fancy painting or an overvalued stock while middle-class Americans are in need of a tax cut.'

    "McCain's campaign, which is cocksure that it knows when stocks are 'overvalued' and when paintings are too 'fancy,' is fueled by such populist rhetoric. Such rhetoric reeks of ignorance, envy, resentment and a thirst for class conflict. It is precisely what conservatism most regrets about contemporary liberalism."

    Time, on the other hand, ran a positive Bush-as-McCain story. James Carney, reporting on the primary, had an early morning jog with the Texas Governor last week and was almost as effusive about Bush as he was about McCain when he visited the Senator's home several weeks back. Carney gave Bush points for candor, optimism and even knowledge of international affairs, which must be a first this year. He writes: "Making a smooth segue into foreign policy, he offered a nuanced assessment of Russia's acting President Vladimir Putin as 'showing signs of pragmatism,' but added, correctly, that 'anyone who tells you they have Putin figured out is blowing smoke.'"

    A Dumb Question I wonder, increasingly, if my family lived outside of New York City and I weren't employed as a journalist, whether I'd read The New York Times. I don't think so. The daily's long regime as "the paper of record" is an ancient memory, even if its editors and publisher don't realize it. The Times' worldview is so distanced from reality, so disturbingly elite and prejudiced, that it's unnecessary reading for even the most inquisitive person. The words you consume in the Times, whether in news stories, editorials or op-ed columns, are written literally (Howell Raines and his gang) and figuratively (reporters like Frank Bruni, Richard Berke and Katharine Seelye) from an ivory tower so rarefied that they cause the stomach to rumble most unpleasantly. The Times' extreme liberal bias is not simply a complaint confined to this writer. While the mainstream commentary and reporting on the 2000 presidential election has been generally atrocious, the Times, with a few exceptions such as reporter Don Van Natta Jr., has ceased to matter. The Washington Post, for example, at least makes a pretense of neutrality, even though it's certain they'll endorse Al Gore in the fall and vilify Republicans along the way. The Times, on the other hand, may as well be tied to the Clinton/Gore permanent campaign apparatus, their support of the administration has been that blatant. During its crusade to get Sen. John McCain on the New York primary ballot, Times editorialists casually referred to the state Republican election rules as "Soviet"-like. While I agree McCain and other challengers have every right to compete in a fair election, it's the Times itself that reads like a communist newspaper. And that's why its influence diminishes each year. Sure, they rack up Pulitzer prizes that are rigged in favor of bigfoot newspapers?probably because the judges come from those dailies?but that's fairly inconsequential.

    Awards handed out by friends are bogus: after all, Billy Joel was inducted into Jann Wenner's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, thus forever fouling that institution.

    Let's get specific: When the Times' film reviewer job became vacant, I wonder why Frank Rich wasn't chosen to fill the slot. He's on the paper's payroll, probably with an enormous salary, and if he held forth on Leo DiCaprio's muscles or Susan Sarandon's latest blast of cinematic propaganda, that would be preferable to his essays every other week on the paper's editorial page.

    Rich sees politics through the prism of Judaism, homosexuality, anti-Christian slurs and Hollywood. His Feb. 12 effort, headlined "Why Pick a Winner? There's Boy George," was another paean to Sen. McCain, although with a few twists. The befuddled writer is still on New Hampshire time, so his column opens with a vignette of Rich interviewing Warren Beatty as news of McCain's landslide was reported on television. Beatty told Rich that "John is a good man." Although Rich concedes that the media's "infatuation with [McCain is] so outrageously syrupy it threatens to toss the entire nation into insulin shock," he goes on to present his own theory on why the phony "outsider" has, at least until recently, dominated the political culture.

    Rich wonders why his fellow liberals have fallen for McCain. It's certainly not his politics, the columnist explains, for the Arizona Senator is pro-life and voted to convict President Clinton last year on two articles of impeachment. The following sentence is an apt illustration of what McCain is allowed to get away with. "As one of Mr. McCain's closest advisers, the former Senator Warren Rudman, put it somewhat overzealously on the Imus show this week, to call Mr. McCain a liberal is 'like accusing Hitler of founding the B'nai B'rith.'"

    Well. Little imagination is necessary to know that if one of Gov. Bush's advisers, say Karl Rove, made the same remark, it would've incensed not only Rich but become a three-day news story in the media at large.

    But Rudman, indemnified by the Straight Talk Express, can utter the name Hitler without being branded an anti-Semite. Even by Rich.

    Rich delves into the recent past by proclaiming that not only is McCain the un-Clinton, but he's also the "un-Kenneth Starr/un-Henry Hyde." And "He's the first major G.O.P. presidential candidate in years who is not running as a pious moral scold in hock to the religious right." A few facts: I don't know what Rich's definition of "years," is, but former President Bush was hardly in "hock" to the religious right. In fact, he battled Pat Robertson in 1988's primaries. And sure, Bob Dole, in '96, courted ultraconservative Republicans, just as George W. Bush and John McCain will do this year, but the Viagra spokesman is anything but "pious." That label is certainly more appropriate for Rich himself.

    Rich hacks Gov. Bush apart for refusing to meet with the Log Cabin Republicans and claims it will be a "nightmare" for him to spurn the gay group. He also says that "Mr. McCain's surly G.O.P. enemies?hard-core right-to-lifers, Tom DeLay, Trent Lott?may be more valuable in a national election than most G.O.P. friends." Rich is fooling himself into believing that McCain will turn pro-choice once elected, but, more significantly, omits the rebuke that Bush gave the Republican-controlled Congress last year. That education speech, delivered in Manhattan, caused "hard-core" Republicans to grumble, but it was a smart political move on Bush's part, reassuring "centrists" that he'd be a reliable antidote to the scandalous Clinton administration.

    The Times hack goes on to excoriate Bush for being antigay ("[in] a time when gay couples can embrace on 'Who Wants to Be a Millionaire' without prompting complaints to ABC"), trash his tax plan and, inexplicably, ridicule his decision to hire former Christian Coalition director Ralph Reed as a consultant. Reed, while unrepentant about his past, leaves no doubt that he's a politician who's interested in electing Republicans; if McCain could've nabbed him, he would have.

    Gary Bauer and Pat Buchanan were/are "hard-right" candidates; Gov. Bush is not. Yet Rich smugly concludes his delusional column with this thought: "Kamikaze thinking like this should make Gore partisans jubilant, for once again the hard right is in full froth, busily transforming a potential Republican victory into a lost cause."

    Huffington has excused herself from reality for the foreseeable future, at least based on her columns. There was the endorsement of actor Warren Beatty for president last year, the liberal rants against Washington insiders (this, from a former hostess in DC, a third-rate Pamela Harriman) and recently a book, How to Overthrow the Government, that Lewis fairly slobbers over. I haven't read, and probably won't read, her book. But I do find some claims that Lewis cites fairly unbelievable. Such as "[M]ore children are homeless than at any time since the Great Depression."

    Lewis doesn't back that up with any statistics, but instead applauds Huffington's new stance in favor of the absurd estate tax. (Funny how Great Depression analogies are in vogue this year: Al Gore, who has difficulty with the truth, recently boasted that the current, and sustained, economic boom was a result of Clinton/Gore policies, and rescued the country from the worst recession since you-know-when.)

    What most impressed Lewis about Huffington's book is her discussion of overcrowded prisons and the government's failure in its war on drugs. I do agree that some states are far too strict in sentencing casual marijuana users (or farmers, who grow it for their own use), but as for the hard stuff, lock the door and throw away the key. Lewis and Huffington believe that "Supplies and use have increased, and will not go down until the priority is shifted to education and treatment of addicts."

    Lewis is so under Huffington's trance that he actually has an unkind word about unions: "The power of money prevents economic and political reform. In California the prison guards' union is so powerful that even the most sensible criminal law reform is blocked?because the union wants more prisons and more prisoners."

    Huffington's syndicated column of Feb. 10 demonstrates her knowledge of American politics. She's disturbed that presidential candidates attack each other, spend money on negative advertising and then coalesce when a winner's been chosen. She writes: "What adds to our sense that American politics has degenerated into a world devoid of integrity and truth is the fact that these changes of heart, when they come, occur without any explanation. It's as if politicians think the public has the mnemonic retention of a pot-smoking gnat."

    I have no idea why so many newspapers carry Huffington's column, since her grasp of political history is astonishingly slight. Does she really believe that politicians just recently started to kiss and make up during their national conventions? Has she ever read any biographies of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, two men who despised each other yet put on a front of unity? Or that FDR in '44 probably couldn't have picked Harry Truman out of a police lineup? Or that Ike wanted to dump Richard Nixon as his veep in '56? This is claptrap that occurs every four years: commentators then wail about the disappearance of truth in political campaigns.

    Huffington, who's led many different lives, is a liberal/populist this year. Anthony Lewis, who possesses an unimaginative mind and has no business allowing his thoughts to be made public, has bought her shtick. When his endorsement of Hillary Clinton is issued, he'll no doubt write, and, more sadly, even believe, that she really wants to be a U.S. senator to continue her 30 years of work on behalf of children.

    February 14

    Send comments to or fax to 244-9864.